I don’t know how many of you are like me, but I tend to get extremely lazy if I’m not working toward some kind of goal. The more resources I find, the more I realize that it’s pretty easy to access (a lot of / certain parts of) Taiwanese culture even if you don’t speak or read a word of Chinese.
Cool for those trying to spread culture. Not cool for keeping me motivated to study the language. My solution is to put myself in a situation which will force me to study and which will hold me accountable. In other words: to test myself.
Many Mandarin Chinese language learners have already heard of the HSK – a Chinese proficiency test administered and evaluated in China. Less people are familiar with the Taiwanese version of this test. But, of course, that’s the one that I’ll be taking.
The test (華語文能力測驗) has been known as the Chinese Proficiency Test (CPT), the Test of Proficiency – Huayu (TOP) and now, the Test of Chinese as a Foreign Language (TOCFL) to mimic its function as the Mandarin version of TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). It’s been around since about 2003, and each year, language centers in Taiwan release more and better study materials for it. It continues to improve and grow each year.
What a Special Test
Reasons to take it:
In addition to being the official test for Mandarin second language learners in Taiwan, it seems like a pretty good test. “Officially,” it’s a good idea to take this test for these reasons:
- You can use it to apply for the “Taiwan Scholarship”
- You’ll most likely need to show your test scores as a credential to get in to a Taiwanese college or grad school
- It’s a resume credential
- Some Taiwanese companies (apparently) require it of non-native Chinese speakers
I’m taking it mostly to motivate me to immerse myself a bit more in the language. My interest in Taiwan started because I loved the beauty of written Chinese (in traditional characters). I’ve explored different things and my perspective has broadened. Now it’s time to get back to basics. I like that as the official test from the Ministry of Education, it’s well respected. I love that it’s offered in traditional characters and that it uses Taiwanese Mandarin (I don’t have to learn new words or grammar). And just in case I feel like I miss going to school, I’ll have options later if I decide to go to grad school in Taiwan. (At this point, that’s significantly less likely though).
A practical exam:
This will be my first time taking this test, but I’m excited about what I’ve heard about ti. Mostly– it’s a really practical test. It doesn’t have that useless and manufactured feeling that most foreign language tests have. You know what I mean, right? It’s not a test that makes you feel like you have to study obscure grammar, read pointless essays, and cram all sorts of vocabulary that you will probably never use again in life.
TOCFL’s claim to fame is that it gets a lot of its source materials from real life: advertisements, notices, letters, memos, public announcements, schedules, weather broadcasts, etc. You get a very diverse range of subject areas as well. So it’s a great challenge to work on your well rounded understanding of the language.
To study, I’ll need to read magazines, read maps and travel brochures, watch TV and read newspapers. I’ll have to look at ads and commercials, and “study” the most quotidian things. I’ll have to get a lot of exposure to every subject area. This is the perfect opportunity to really get my feet wet in a full range of things.
Although this is a Taiwanese test, you can take it in the United States. The test is offered seven cities / regions in the United States: Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Washington, Boston, Chicago, and Houston. Last I checked, the Chicago region offered opportunities to sit for the exam in the city, in Chicago suburbs and in Milwaukee. We’ll see what new information comes out when the Steering Committee posts the 2012 dates and locations!
My Current Progress
The test is usually offered sometime between late March and late June, so I’ve got about 5 to 7 months until the big day. The timing is about right to start studying. I’m working with a very sweet and diligent tutor (more on this later) who is dedicated to helping me go full speed ahead. I think I’ll even reward myself with a trip to Taiwan once I pass my level (more on that too). Mostly because it’s been forever since I’ve been to Taiwan.
There’s a lot of vocabulary to review and a lot of new things to learn. (I’ve regressed a lot!) Less than half of Intermediate test takers pass and barely more than half of Advanced takers pass. But at $30 a sitting, it’s a pretty cheap test worth taking a couple of times in a row (at different levels) anyway.
I’ll keep you updated on my progress as time goes on. Mostly, I’ll let you know about the activities and tricks I’m using to really get me into gear. I absolutely welcome any tips or suggestions that anyone has for studying (especially if you’ve sat for the exam yourself). I’ll try just about anything and share as many of your tips as I can.
Yippee! Bring on the learning.
[Read my follow up called "Why Take the TOCFL (Part 2)"]